It was great to catch-up with United Autosports owner and team principal Richard Dean. With two LMP2 Oreca 07s entered in the 24-Hours of Le Mans and a further 4 Ligier JS P320s LMP3s entered in the Michelin Le Mans Cup, Road to Le Mans race there can be little left back in Wakefield, and the logistical challenges are not lost on Richard, all personnel are in place and the testing programme and protocols required by the organisers are being met. Read on to for more about the build up to this unique behind-closed-doors Le Mans.
SCG – The season so far is going very well in both the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and the European Le Mans Series (ELMS). What is your/the team’s perspective on the year to-date?
Richard Dean (RD) – It was never going to be easy having geared up over two years with the Ligier LMP2 cars we were not just understanding the cars, set-ups and specialist equipment for those cars, so it was never going to be easy, and to do it mid-season made it even harder, added to that we wanted new cars (not used) at that point and we wanted to do it at that point to have a couple of races at the back-end of that season to be better prepared for 2020. So we started with a couple of used (former IMSA) cars which required a few detail changes and to make them our own, so it was a very busy time. We stumbled a little in the first few races, Silverstone notably when we were very quick in every session up to qualifying and had trouble in the race.
The pace was there from the start, and you know that you can build reliability, understanding and experience over time. What we did not know was how quickly we have been able to turn that on so that we can compete with very good and experienced established Oreca teams. Since Silverstone, which I’d like to forget, I’ve been told that we have finished on the podium every time out!
SCG – We will maybe come back to the recent United Autosports domination.. But at Silverstone it seemed to be an electrical/wiring issue, and you are not the only team to have suffered that sudden stop on track and refusal to re-start..
RD – We know what it was, and I can’t comment on other teams woes, it certainly happened to us, can’t comment whether its a common feature or not, but we are pretty pleased with where we are at with the Oreca 07 – Gibson package so far.
SCG – So in the shorter duration race you are in control, is there anything for a 24-hour race like Le Mans, different component specifications or an extra turn on a few bolts?!
RD – Yes, component specifications are fixed in LMP2 but recommendations do come through from Oreca for all teams and standard preparations that any team would do that are Le Mans specific. The final element to it is in organisation for the friday before race day. Traditionally you have had significant hours of running in free practice and qualifying and Friday is free (12-15 hours) to strip the car, rebuild, put everything back to zero hours, replacing every critical component, anything major that has a life to it.
That has been made really difficult this year as Free Practice 3 and Hyper-Pole takes place on the Friday morning. Assuming you make the Hyper-Pole shoot-out, after inspection you will be fortunate to have control of the car again until early afternoon.. Asking the crew to work into the night just prior to a 24-hour race is far from ideal.
So since returning from Paul Ricard we have built up two complete brand new rear ends (Ed. Audi-esque thinking) from the driver back completely assembled. Then we will have front corners, radiators and bits-n-pieces to attend to.
SCG – And then just an exercise in balancing it all up?
RD – Yes, exactly, so it’s hardly a cheap exercise doing it that way, but we could not see how you could manage the events of the week otherwise.
SCG – So last year, with the Ligier, Phil Hanson, Filipe Alburquque and Paul Di Resta finished just off of the podium, clearly having banked that experience, your next natural step is one or more upwards and got to be the goal for the team?
RD – Either car yes, our three Le Mans to-date, 2017, 18 & 19 have been fourth, third and fourth, all with the Ligier, so we are all aiming for the podium, but this is Le Mans as everyone knows plenty else comes into play over the 24-hours.
SCG – Yes it can be fickle can’t it.. And the last weather forecast for the weekend looks far from straightforward..
RD – The one I looked at on Saturday looked good, then everyone keeps telling me it does look so good anymore.. So I think really we just deal with what comes, there is enough going on here at the moment to keep us occupied.
SCG – You are running the Michelin tyres rather than Goodyear, does that present any advantages? You had plenty of mixed running recently at Spa-Francorchamp..
RD – Its so difficult to know from the pit wall, at Spa we had every weather condition, at Paul Ricard we had the night race and that change in ambient is just as relevant in terms of changes for the tyre condition and consequences. They performed pretty well so expecting them to be in the mix here.
SCG – You have benefitted from some very good race / test conditions to prepare for Le Mans..
RD – We have, but you know Le Mans is unique, it’s pretty difficult to do any form of simulation for Le Mans, and we are going to have an awful lot more hours of darkness (Ed. 50% more) this year as well. So expecting it to be hot during the day, transitioning to cool at night with the potential weather it’s going to be exciting!
SCG – Yes indeed! We have seen in LMP1 changes of bodywork for different ambient conditions, is that an option for LMP2 runners? To achieve a change in downforce level or is the risk of unbalancing the car too great?
RD – Its easier and faster to change the tail section of an Oreca 07 than it is to reliably adjust the rear wing certainly, so if you have a tail built up with a different wing setting that is one thing, but as you say it would only affect the rear which to then balance is not easy. The LMP1 cars are more open specification-wise to also adjust the front-end.
It’s sometimes easy to get lost chasing conditions, what we know at Le Mans is it can throw everything at you and a less than optimum set-up has to be managed throughout the race.
SCG – True, we saw the #1 Rebellion R13 at Spa go out for a stint at the start of the race with wrong tyre pressures, and it proved pretty hopeless for that stint until a change could be made.
RD – Yes chasing conditions usually a recipe for disaster in my experience…
SCG – We early touched on the dominance of United Autosprorts in LMP2.. we are hearing lots of news from Alpine and likely later this week from Peugeot around “Hyper/DH” the future top Le Mans / WEC category (and replacement for LMP1 in 2021, what are United Autosports aspirations to move to the top category and battle for overall victory?
RD – Well it is not a case of being guarded or diplomatic, I could not be more clear in that we would love to be part of the new plans, the new regulations and the top category. We are no different to most of the teams in this paddock, we are ambitious, we want to have a chance to compete and to compete for wins overall at Le Mans 24-hours is a dream. So, its our dream, our ambition, an open ambition and target, but if you are asking me do we have any plans to announce, No, but we are hoping that our results will keep us in the frame for any opportunities that might come up…
SCG – The Alpine move appears to be a tactical and opportunist one in picking up the grandfathered Rebellion Racing R13s (developed by Oreca), is it possible that United Autosports could look to a grandfathered LMP1 as a platform for 2021? Perhaps from someone local to you (Ginetta) ?
RD – No. It is an obvious connection, but we are very focused on LMP2 and the job in hand, we have a lot going on, and we are keeping on top of that. To add that project for what would be an interim period, I think is not in our plans. We are fully focused on LMP2 and with an eye on new regs in 2022 and everybody joining in by 2023… plenty to do..
SCG – And we are forgetting you have acquired the assets of Strakka Racing?
RD – Yes, we have three Mercedes GT3 cars, 2 of which are 2020-spec, as part of that deal, but that is not necessarily the plan to launch a GT3 team at the moment.
SCG – As part of this weekend you also have the four Ligier JS P320 – Nissan cars running in the Michelin Le Mans Cup / Road to Le Mans race and notably Shaun Lynn and Joe Macari in one?
RD – Shaun has been with us a long time doing a variety of races, including the Abu Dhabi 12h, number of Michelin Le Mans Cup, he loves his racing, historics, the LMP3 cars, who doesn’t love Le Mans, he’s good mates with Joe so we hope to help them out here as in a normal seasons, without the crowds we hope the experience is as good as ever. They have not even had an opportunity to test, we’ve done a seat fit and thats it and they will sample the 2020 car for the first time in practice Thursday morning!
SCG – Whilst thundering down the Mulsanne/Ligne Droite in anything, we doubt there is little opportunity to consider the crowd, it probably grabs your attention!
RD – Exactly
SCG – Does getting out from behind the pitwall not tempt you Richard, or Zak (Brown)?
RD – We have never actually talked about it, I’ve been lucky and had the opportunity to race at Le Mans on three occasions. Zak hasn’t, its something I’ve told him constantly he needs to do, and there is little doubt he wants to, but trying to find a gap in his schedule even for lunch is tough given his many day jobs it’s tough, but never rule it out.. Perhaps a Road to Le Mans race would be the thing… He has the Le Mans bug arriving Thursday through Sunday, so may be I’ll suggest it.
SCG – We’re thinking one of those GT3 Mercedes would fit the bill, try and get some ink on paper for 2021 perhaps?
RD – Yeah who knows, He will have the right engine in the McLaren F1 car, for the job…
SCG – We are insanely jealous this year Richard and greatly appreciate the time given your other current commitments.
RD – Sorry you guys can’t be here. When you look at the paddock everybody is making an effort like every other year, but when you step out of it, it looks strange, it’s going to be interesting..
SCG – There is always Next Year Richard. We wish you and the team the very best of luck for a quick and safe 2020 24-Hours of Le Mans. Ones to Watch everybody!
In this unusual year, if you’d like to find out more about United Autosports click here to go to their video collection including Richard Dean’s 2020 Lockdown 5-part Virtual Workshop Tour!